How Support Groups Can Help After a Cancer Diagnosis

Support groups can help foster hope and resilience in the face of adversity. Is a support group right for you?

‘‘Stepping into a [support] group for the first time is both brave and humble. It’s normal to feel anxiety about what to expect, but people are often surprised at how comfortable they feel even if they never saw themselves as a ‘support group’ kind of person. Hearing the stories of others who get it from the inside out can be a validating and reassuring experience.’’ – Renata Sledge, MSW, LCSW

If you have just learned you have cancer, you may feel overwhelmed as you decide which steps to take next. You also may feel too numb to think about how to manage the stress and anxiety that can come with diagnosis and treatment. Even when you are surrounded by loving and supportive people, dealing with the emotions and changes that cancer can bring can be lonely.

Talking to someone may be the first step in helping you cope with the uncertainties ahead. Support groups are one way to talk about what you are experiencing and make meaningful connections with others who understand.


What Are the Benefits of Support Groups?

By coming together and sharing personal experiences, support group participants can help one another feel less alone. They can also share coping strategies that have helped them.

There has been extensive research on the positive effects of support groups as a method of coping with cancer, improving quality of life, and improving health outcomes. Studies show that support groups help reduce the 3 most significant stressors associated with cancer: unwanted aloneness, loss of control, and loss of hope.

In our own research, people who participate in support groups ― either face-to-face or online ― have reported significant decreases in depression, increased zest for life, and a new attitude toward their illness.


“The thing that was important was that you found out you are not alone… It gave you the chance to laugh, to cry, and to realize that you weren’t alone in the caregiving.” – Elaine, caregiver support group participant


Types of Cancer Support Groups

Patients, caregivers, and family members can all benefit from joining support groups. There are many different types of support groups that provide emotional support for cancer. These include:

  • Professionally facilitated groups
  • Groups facilitated by fellow cancer survivors
  • Disease-specific groups (such as breast cancer or colorectal cancer support groups)
  • Age-specific groups (such as support groups for teens or young adults)
  • Time-limited groups (could be short-term, long-term, or ongoing)
  • Groups for caregivers or family members

Look for a group that fits your unique needs. Most support groups are free-of-charge and meet on an ongoing basis in your community. If you join a support group and do not find it helpful, try another one. A support group can be a lifeline to information, support, and encouragement through good times and bad.


“As a support group facilitator, I have found that when a group focuses on the social and emotional impact of cancer, the actual diagnosis or stage does not matter. Often, people learn from each other better in general support groups because there are so many commonalities in the cancer experience.” – Clara Anderson Sainte, LCSW, LSCSW


Where Can I Find a Support Group Near Me?

We know how important finding a supportive community can be. We have 190 locations worldwide, including CSC and Gilda’s Club centers, that offer support groups and other professionally led programs, all free of charge, for people impacted by cancer.

The support groups at our locations are facilitated by licensed mental health professionals. They are experts in group facilitation and supporting the formation of positive group dynamics. Participants can share what they are feeling and experiencing, from coping with life changes to managing side effects like pain and fatigue.

Find a Location Near You

Note: If you do not find a CSC or Gilda’s Club location in your area, contact our Cancer Support Helpline toll-free at 888-793-9355 or via live web chat to receive resources and information targeted to your specific needs, including support programs that may be available near you.


“It creates a space where the good and the bad can be shared within a supportive community. No matter the circumstance, a support group ensures that no one is trying to manage tough cancer experiences alone.” – Clara Anderson Sainte, LCSW, LSCSW


How to Get the Most Out of Support Groups

Participation is at the heart of support groups. When participants share their thoughts, experiences, and feelings, everyone in the group can benefit from the discussion.

In a CSC blog for first-time group participants, Renata Sledge, MSW, LCSW, shared: “Support groups work best when members are open about their concerns, even the concern that attending group does not appear to be helping ― but you have a right to be cautious while you get your bearings, and it’s important that you feel safe before you share information and feelings.”

If you are new to a support group, here are some other helpful tips:

  • Give yourself time to warm up to your group.
  • Participate at your own pace and comfort level.
  • Not sure if it’s helping? Try 3 sessions to see how it goes.


“I walked into group knowing I needed to feel not so alone, but not sure that group was what I wanted. The first person I saw asked me how I was. I knew she really wanted to know and so I told her.” – Group participant

What If a Support Group Is Not Right for Me?

Support groups are not for everyone. You may decide, after giving it a try, that it is not a good fit for you. There are other options to help you cope with cancer and feel less alone.

Here are a few possibilities:

Take a Class or Workshop

In addition to support groups, our CSC and Gilda’s Club locations offer free programs like educational workshops, cooking classes, yoga, and meditation. These can be a great option for people who feel more comfortable doing activities rather than talking. In these settings, participants can still benefit from a sense of community and shared experience.

Connect With Others Online

If you don’t live near one of our physical locations, consider joining our free digital support community for people impacted by cancer, MyLifeLine. When you join MyLifeLine, you can create a personal support network to document your journey and receive support from friends and family along the way. You can also join our discussion forums on a variety of cancer-related topics, from coping with side effects to nutrition & wellness.

Connect to Your Online Community


Individual Support

Ask your healthcare team if there is an oncology social worker at your health center available to talk with you. Oncology social workers can help cancer patients and their families cope with and navigate cancer. They can be a helpful guide throughout someone’s entire cancer experience.

Individual Counseling

Individual counseling offers patients one-to-one time with a mental health professional. Mental health professionals are experts in helping people express thoughts, fears, and emotions. If you feel you could benefit from individual counseling, ask your oncologist or local community support organization for a referral to a specialist in cancer counseling. They should be able to provide you with a list of qualified professionals in your area. Be sure to check with your insurance company to determine what counseling services and providers are covered under your plan.

Coping With Bone Metastasis? Try These Healthy Tips

Bone is a common place for cancer to spread. If you or a loved one is living with cancer that has spread to the bone, read on for tips to improve your quality of life.


Bone metastasis happens when cancer spreads to the bone from another part of the body where it started. It is different than primary bone cancer, which starts in the bone. Bone metastasis (sometimes called bone mets or secondary bone cancer) is not bone cancer. It is still the same cancer you started with. This might be breast cancer, prostate cancer, or another cancer.

Find Hope With Treatment

Bone metastasis is one of the most common types of metastases. It is also very treatable. Many people can live for years after learning they have bone metastasis. Treatment depends on each patient. So, your healthcare team will consider factors that are unique to you. These include your symptoms, where your bone cancer is located, and other cancer treatments you are receiving or have received.

Discover Treatment Options for Bone Metastases

When you discuss treatment options with your healthcare team, let them know about any symptoms you are experiencing. This might include bone or joint pain. Treatment can help lessen pain. Other ways to manage bone pain include working with a palliative care specialist, taking pain medication, or using radiation to treat pain at specific sites. Your healthcare team can help you create a management plan.

Did You Know?
Some drugs can help slow bone metastases, strengthen bone, and reduce pain. Get more details about bone-building drugs.

Boost Your Bone Strength

Your bones and joints need extra attention and care when managing bone metastasis. Common areas for cancer to spread are the hip bone, ribs, skull, spine, upper leg bone, and upper arm bone. Cancer can weaken these bones by keeping important cells from working the way they should. Weakened bones are more prone to breaking.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of fractures, including keeping your bones as strong as possible. Here are some ways to get started:

Get moving to strengthen your bones. 

Exercising can help you maintain bone density, improve your balance, and boost your mood. Walking, swimming, tai chi, or yoga are gentle ways to get moving and lift your spirits. Resistance exercises can be good for building muscle strength, but there may be limits on how much weight you should lift. Since some exercises can put stress on the body, ask your healthcare team about safe forms of exercise based on your unique needs.

Nourish your bones. 

A well-balanced diet can help you feel better overall and support bone health. Look for foods that are rich in vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and calcium helps build strong bones. Excellent sources of calcium include yogurt, canned salmon, and dark, leafy greens like kale and broccoli. Always talk with your healthcare provider before making any dietary changes. They can also tell you:

  • If calcium and vitamin D supplements may be right for you
  • Whether you should follow any dietary restrictions
  • How you can support your bone health in other ways

Canned salmon is high in calcium, but fresh salmon is a good source, too. Try this Herbed Lemon Salmon recipe, perfect when experiencing dry mouth from radiation treatment.

Safeguard your home. 

Since the risk of fractures increases with bone cancer metastasis, look for ways you can reduce your chances of falling. Check your home for potential tripping or slipping hazards and correct them. Are there any loose area rugs? Stairs without carpet or treads? Try these 8 simple tips to prevent falls.

Did You Know?
Smoking speeds up bone loss, and excessive alcohol consumption can affect the cells that build new bone. Avoid smoking and limit alcohol to help keep your bones as strong as possible.

Connect With Others

No one should have to manage a cancer diagnosis alone. Find hope and inspiration on MyLifeLine, our free digital support community for people impacted by cancer. MyLifeLine exists to easily connect patients and caregivers with their family members, friends, and others in their support community.

Create a personal network site to share updates with your loved ones and organize a helping network for things like rides to medical appointments, help with meals, childcare, and more. You can also join our discussion forums on a variety of topics, from nutrition & wellness to managing side effects. The forums are a safe space to exchange stories, coping strategies, and inspiration with other members going through similar experiences.

Build a Helping Network Among Your Friends and Family

family signing onto laptop to help a loved one

Research shows outcomes for cancer patients improve when they have a strong support community. Building a helping network can help you focus on what’s most important — healing.

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Sometimes, the toughest part is knowing where to start as you begin navigating this challenging journey. If you aren’t sure where to start, one helpful resource is MyLifeLine, CSC’s free digital support community for people impacted by cancer. 

MyLifeLine exists to easily connect patients and caregivers with their family members, friends, and others in their support community. MyLifeLine allows you to create your own personal network site. Here, you can document your journey, share updates, and receive social, emotional, and practical support along the way.

When you create a personal network site, you also gain access to a tool called the Helping Calendar. The Helping Calendar enables patients and care coordinators to create events for all sorts of things: doctor’s appointments, rides to treatment, meals, childcare, pet care and more. This is an exclusive space for cancer patients and their care coordinators to organize volunteers to help with specific events, easing the burden of cancer so that patients can focus on treatments and healing.

Did You Know?

Having a strong support system is good for our social well-being. It can boost our emotional, mental, and physical wellness, too.

As difficult as it may be to ask for help, there are members of your community who want to be useful to you. The Helping Calendar notifies your supporters when events are added to your calendar. This way, your support network knows exactly how they can help, and you never have to pick up the phone. To volunteer for a specific event, they can simply visit your calendar to sign up. For extra help, you can even designate a friend or family member to manage your Helping Calendar for you.

The Helping Calendar also allows your friends and family members across the country to know when your (or your loved one’s) treatment appointments are. One MyLifeLine family said they love the Helping Calendar because “it’s a great way to disseminate information to a lot of people who are interested.”

Exclusively for MyLifeLine Members

Family and friends may not always have the answers you seek. MyLifeLine’s discussion forums are a safe space to exchange stories, coping strategies, and inspiration with other members going through similar experiences.

Discover More About Our Discussion Forums

CSC and MyLifeLine firmly believe that community is stronger than cancer. At some point during your cancer journey, you’re going to need help. Luckily, your community has your back. Give them the opportunity to contribute.

Whether you’re a cancer patient or a caregiver, you’re not in this alone. Your cancer experience is unique, so your support should be too.

“Support is so vital and one component, out of many, that helps me cope.” – Nancy, MyLifeLine Member